PowerPoint: The 5 most common mistakes

Don’t be that speaker.

We’ve all seen that speaker. I’m talking about the one who flies through 100 PowerPoint slides in 20 minutes. Or the one whose font size is microscopically tiny. Or the one whose slides magically appear with an elaborate whooshing noise. Don’t be like that speaker. Here are the five most common PowerPoint mistakes—and how to avoid them. 1. Too many slides Clients often ask how many slides are appropriate for a PowerPoint presentation. There’s no easy answer—some presentations demand none, while others could seamlessly incorporate one per minute. In general, try to avoid more than one slide every three minutes. You—not the slideshow—should be the star of the show. Slides shouldn’t tell the audience new information; rather, they should reinforce key messages. Lose the slide if it doesn’t help reinforce a critical point. 2. Too many words Last year, I saw a speaker who crammed about 100 words onto each slide. He was speaking in a large ballroom, and guess what: no one seated behind the first row could read his slides. The entire audience squinted and tried to read his text anyway. And that meant they were no longer listening to the speaker. In general, aim for no more than three to four words per bullet, no more than three bullets per slide. And please, don’t use your PowerPoint slides as a takeaway. If your slides make any sense as a stand-alone takeaway document without your verbal commentary, you’ve probably loaded too much information onto each slide. 3. Pointless animations You might think that Microsoft invented PowerPoint because it thought speakers should use all of its coolest features. It didn’t. Here’s what Robert Gaskins, the Microsoft whiz who invented PowerPoint, had to say on the topic:

“Despite the lush graphics effects so easily produced through modern presentation applications, most contemporary presentations should return to formats nearly as spare as the old overhead transparencies.”

He’s right. Animations and graphics can be used if they serve a specific purpose that helps the audience retain your main messages. But 99 percent of the time I’ve seen them used, they don’t. 4. Not enough graphics I’ve mentioned that your slides should reinforce your messages; visuals—such as simple graphs, pie charts, and pictures—are a terrific way to accomplish that. Don’t load your presentation with graphics, but rather remain mindful of the balance between words and graphics. Look through your PowerPoint presentation. When you come across text-heavy slides, ask yourself whether there’s a better way to make the same point through images instead. 5. Complicated visuals The three keys to good graphics are these: simplify, simplify, simplify. Everything on your slide should be visible to the back row—so omit any small text and include only the most essential parts. For example, this is a real PowerPoint slide prepared for U.S. commanders in Afghanistan. It’s a perfect example of a terrible PowerPoint slide. To prevent the audience from looking at the slide instead of listening to me, I give them about 10 seconds to take it in and then I continue. As a more positive example, I use this slide in our media training workshops (it’s about the importance of remaining on message). It may not mean much here—but paired with the point I make verbally, it’s a critical message that audiences tend to remember. Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog and president of Phillips Media Relations, which specializes in media and presentation training. He tweets at @MrMediaTraining. (Image via)


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